What is a Parasomnia?


Parasomnias are disorders typically characterized by the occurrence of abnormal physiological or behavioural events occurring during sleep, a specific stage of sleep or sleep wake transitions.

Commonly seen behaviours are sleep talking and sleepwalking, while other less well known examples include eating during sleep, acting out the content of dreams, or yelling out during sleep.  These behaviours are referred to as parasomnias and can occur during non rapid eye movement (non-REM) or rapid eye movement (REM) stages of sleep, representing a combination of wakefulness and sleep states.

While it can be distressing for people to experience these behaviours through the night there can also be negative effects during the day, including poor concentration, unrefreshed sleep and daytime somnolence.

There is a range of reasons these behaviours occur.  An attended sleep study conducted in a sleep laboratory along with a consultation with a specialist sleep physician is an important part of evaluating and diagnosing the presence and possible cause of the disorder and associated behaviours.

Treatment will differ depending on whether the events occur during non-REM or REM sleep and whether the events are spontaneous or brought on by other sleep disturbances such as OSA or limb movements during sleep.

In some cases parasomnias will disappear as an outcome of treatment for other sleep disturbances while in other cases medication may be needed.